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Red Hook Pitches School Upgrades, Fitness Park, Bus Clocks for Budget List

 District 38 hosted their first participatory budgeting expo in Sunset Park on March 15, 2014.
District 38 Participatory Budgeting
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RED HOOK — Red Hook is ready to spend $2 million in taxpayer money to improve their neighborhood with a renovated basketball court, outdoor fitness equipment and even a step towards protecting kids from the summer heat at a local school.

Those and 16 other projects were pitched at City Councilman Carlos Menchaca’s first participatory budgeting expo held Saturday in Sunset Park.

Menchaca has set aside $2 million of his budget for neighborhood improvements in District 38, which includes Red Hook, Sunset Park, South Slope and Greenwood Heights.

PS 15 in Red Hook suffers through the hottest months of the year without air conditioning in the auditorium, cafeteria and gym, said PTA president Lydia Bellahcene.

The auditorium, which can hold maximum of 200 people, is commonly used by students for rehearsals, programs and school events like graduation but can get “dangerously stifling” Bellahcene said.

“It’s not safe,” she said.

The heat can make students drowsy and affect their ability to focus during school events and tests that are routinely conducted in the auditorium, she said.

The project would spend $400,000 to upgrade the school’s electrical wiring system so that it can sustain a new split-cooling unit. The money would be shared with PS 10 in South Slope, which also faces a similar issue.

If the new wiring is funded, the school will begin raising money for the air conditioning units, Bellahcene said.

During events that bring both adults and children to the school, staffers are constantly on guard for people suffering from the high inside temperature, which can rise to 80 degrees on occasion.

“We’re scanning the audience for anyone that looks fatigued,” Bellahcene said.

Residents of Menchaca’s district who are 16 years and older are eligible to vote for projects from March 30 to April 6 and the top proposals will receive funding.

A number of proposals involved schools, including another one from PS 15 that would provide MacBook laptops to the students.

The list of proposals also includes bringing exercise equipment to Red Hook Park for $500,000 and a newly renovated basketball court on Bush between Columbia and Hicks streets for $300,000.

Red Hook resident and budget delegate Sheryl Braxton, who proposed refurbishing the court, also pitched a plan to revamp a garden next to Red Hook Library so that it can be used by children and adults in the community. 

A 12,000-square-foot “bioswale” was proposed for Red Hook at Mill Street under the Gowanus Expressway and a 11,000-square-foot one at 39th Street in Sunset Park for $900,000 each. It would add canopy trees, flowers and plants to the space as well as the ability to stop prevent city sewers from overflowing by collecting storm water.

Commuters on the B61 may soon have a digital countdown to when the bus will arrive at their stop if budget delegate Linda Orlando’s proposal is funded.

For Orlando, safety of travelers was the major impetus in supporting the project that would bring digital clocks, specifying the number of minutes till the next bus, to each stop.

“We want them to be safe at the bus stop,” she said. “Some area are a little dark and desolate.”

Orlando is hoping to have $200,000 of the project funded in District 38 and the rest through a separate participatory budgeting program in District 39, where the B61 bus runs as well.

The next District 38 participatory budgeting expo will held March 27 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Red Hook Public Library (7 Walcott St.)